The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently reported that the U.S. labor force has dropped by six million people since the Great Recession, and there has been little sign in recent years of this changing even as the economy has improved.
According to the BLS, those considered to have dropped out of the workforce are people who are experiencing long-term unemployment, yet are currently not seeking work. So, the million dollar question is: where did all these people go? Are there really millions of people out there who have despaired from ever finding employment?
A closer look at the situation reveals that the high unemployment rate may in part be due to the increase of those taking on contingent or freelance work. The two largest groups of the unemployed population are those age 25 to 35, and those over 55.
While it’s hard to get exact numbers on who is freelancing these days, according to the latest Freelance Industry Report, 75% of freelancers are between the ages of 30 and 59, and 12% of respondents were 60 or older. The largest group in the survey (26%) was the 30 to 39 segment.
Unless these freelance workers have officially started their own micro business, and/or are reporting every cent they make, it’s quite possible that the majority of them are just being labeled as “unemployed” by the BLS. If that’s true, then we can expect to see this same “unemployment” trend for years to come.
The economy has been quickly shifting to a more contingent workforce. This is largely due to a challenging job market paired with, advancements in mobile technology, the ubiquity of the internet, and a strong cultural push (among Millennials in particular) for the recognition that there is more to life than work. According to a study conducted by MBO Partners a couple of years ago, the number of freelance workers may surpass full-time workers by 2020, and the Freelancers Union estimates that there are approximately 42 million independent workers currently in America.
In short, as everyone chews over the latest labor report, just keep in mind that those statistics may not be telling the whole story. Not everyone there is much more to the labor market story.